Sunday, 31 January 2016

Fairy bread and Cosmopolitans: An (Ubar-fabulous) evening with Portia Turbo at Perfume Lovers London (28.1.16)

This Thursday marked the eighth anniversary of my falling down the rabbit hole, ironically by idly googling a few perfumes a friend wore that I didn't like, and observing that they had a number of notes in common. One google led to another...eventually to fragrance wheels and pyramids and samples, from where it was a short bunny hop to full blown mania, an international network of perfumista friends, and a collection of 70 bottles and counting. Hopefully counting down, but last week's eBay coup isn't exactly heading in the right direction. Anyway, it seems fitting that I marked the occasion by popping down to London to attend the much awaited Perfume Lovers London meet up, featuring flamboyant Aussie drag queen, Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies. She has unfortunately had to 'go down a -Gear' following a nonsensical Facebook ruling on using real names, but Portia Turbo is still a pretty wicked name.

The obligatory outfit crisis

As you may recall, I invariably have an outfit crisis before any kind of important event, and this PLL meet up was no exception. In the end I gave up on reconciling my twin aims of smartness and warmth, and went for smartness. However, this was undermined somewhat by the stomach I had developed in the past week after consuming an entire bucket of Maltesers, which was unfortunately showcased by my aptly named 'dinner trousers'. Or 'after dinner choc binge trousers' to give them their full name. I only noticed this problem protuberance when I saw the photos of me from the night, and in hindsight would have been better off with something a bit more floaty and forgiving.

Me and Portia - lost a tum and gained Angela Merkel!

Forgotten things

And it is also traditional for me to forget something on such occasions: this time it was my watch, an umbrella, money, and one of the five coupons which collectively comprised my train ticket - I must have failed to scoop it up from the vending machine. As luck would have it, the next customer retrieved the coupon, handed it to a member of staff, who gave it to the conductor of the train I was on, who proceeded to walk through all the carriages looking for its owner, which could be ascertained by marrying up the serial numbers with my other coupons. What a fine example of proactive customer service that I didn't even know I needed! Or not until I attempted to travel home and found my ticket was invalid without that missing coupon...

The welcome committee

I was met at Euston (the novelty! the Brief Encountery-ness of it all!) by Val the Cookie Queen of APJ and Rachael Potts, both examples of that remarkable Venn diagram intersection of fumehead and fellow Monochrome Set fans. Rachael - whom I was meeting for the first time - immediately endeared herself to me by saying that I had a 'grown up voice' and was 'enigmatic'. (This may have meant in practice that I was unable to give any advance platform information, or even let her know where my train was coming from.) The three of us quickly hooked up with Tara of A Bottled Rose, Val's husband Chris, Val's travelling therapist, Dr Fox, and Lady Jane Grey, who had just flown in from a business meeting near Geneva! Some of us went to grab an impromptu bite near the venue, before joining the rest of our (predominantly German speaking ;) ) party at the venue. This was accessed by a very steep flight of stairs, which you would not wish to negotiate in either direction if you were a few Cosmopolitans to the wind.

Val, looking lively in leopardskin

Quirky and top notch scram

Yes, before moving on to an account of the event proper, the refreshments deserve a word of special commendation. I don't recall the full spread, but I did clock unwrapped Penguins, the Aussie delicacy known as Fairy Bread (dainty triangles of bread and butter sprinkled with hundreds and thousands - or 'sprinkles' for any US readers who don't mind a spot of repetition), some kind of twizzly extruded snacks and the biggest cashew nuts I have ever seen. If I hadn't just eaten a sizzling bowl of bibimbap I would have made light work of those, I can tell you. And even though the jug of ready mixed Cosmopolitans had been drunk by the time I investigated the options, I was impressed by the fact that this 'fun, fruity cocktail', beloved of the characters in Sex and The City had been on offer. It set the tone for Portia's fun, fruity talk no less!

We didn't have the teal variety! Source: Wikipedia

Portia's outfit - worth the ticket price in itself

I am not sure there is such an expression as 'a destination outfit' as there is a 'destination wedding' - you know, where the bride and groom fly to the Caribbean and combine the ceremony and honeymoon under one petal-strewn poolside pergola - but I would pay good money just to go and see Portia in all her glamorous finery. The coruscating talk was a bonus. So, starting at the bottom, Portia was shod in clear perspex peep-toe shoes with tottering 'f*** me' heels, to the terrifying vertiginousness of which her stretchy ankle bandage may have been testament. Next came a pair of very pale flesh coloured tights on her shapely legs, topped by a baby doll nightie in some suitably - or unsuitably depending on your stance on such things - diaphanous material, which made an interesting counterpoint with Portia's newly grown hipster beard. Well, new since I saw her last, which is a while ago (see outfit crisis link above!). And then came the crowning glory - Portia's headpiece, which I can best describe as a sparkly golden whelk. It was truly magnificent and looked quite heavy, but she is a real trouper, I sense, and has doubtless been weighed down by even more elaborate headgear in her time.

Scent of a (clatter of remarkable) women from down the ages

So finally, on to the event itself, which kicked off about 7.15pm 'We are starting a bit late', quipped Portia, 'because some of you can't afford watches!' (Can't afford - or can't remember to bring them, I thought to myself.) The session was relaxed, interactive, completely hilarious and occasionally blue or sweary in places. A winning combination of ingredients in my book.

Kirk, Val, Chris and Pia

Now I know that Tara will be reporting on the night for APJ itself, and she is noted for being as meticulous as a court reporter in her note taking. Consequently, I shall not attempt to present a full account of Portia's talk, for my own scribbly jottings would fall woefully short. Instead, I will endeavour to give a flavour of the content, which centred around a list of twelve formidable female figures from history - mostly, but not all benign, it should be said - whom Portia had matched with a scent which she felt summed up their character / persona. Blotters of the fragrances in question were distributed amongst us so we could all experience Portia's suggestion. The audience meanwhile had been randomly assigned fabric strips with the names of one of the women featured, and were asked to think what we would associate that person with ourselves. Googling was permitted, should anyone be a bit nonplussed by the name they had been allocated!

So without further preamble - though you knew there would have to be some, this being Bonkers ;) - here is a quick romp through a selection of the featured women from history, their assigned scents, and any comments from the audience. I should point out that the titbits I have homed in on in the 'Famous for' category by no means give an exhaustive picture of that individual's lifetime achievements, hehe.


Famous for: Marrying her brother and creating the Syrian army - 'which was just as f***ed then as it is now'. Cleopatra apparently had a good body, but a 'face like a foot'. She painted her skin with lead to make her face whiter, and drank a pearl dissolved in vinegar in a bet with Mark Antony. (My notes were a bit shaky at this point, but Googling is permitted, as I say.)

Ubar by Amouage

NB (I chose this as my sample to take home at the end of the night, because I know it is a particular favourite of Undina's, and thought that after my recent rapprochement with Salome, I was ready to give this 'big hitter' perfume another go).

Audience suggestions: White Diamonds, Poison, Onda Extrait (no prizes for guessing who that was!), and good old plain ass's milk. Or even asses' milk, as it would take a couple to fill a bath.

Source: Pinterest


Famous for: Leading the French to victory against England in the Hundred Years' War and being burnt at the stake. ;(

Celtic Fire by Union(!)

Audience suggestions: I didn't say so, but Brulure de Rose flitted into my mind - and promptly out again! I think it was in connection with poor Joan that Lila came up with Jovoy Paris's La Liturgie des Heures, because of its being an incense scent. There was much ribald discussion of the existence of the Marmite accord that is meant to be in Celtic Fire, but Grant Osborne has seen it in the vial, so that settled the matter.

Source: Wikipedia


Famous for: Being a nurse in the Crimean War and having the idea of sanitising hospital wards and washing patients' clothes.

Sharp by Andrea  Maack

NB (My review of Sharp may be found here. I liked it best out of Andrea Maack's range, not least because it had no discernible metal note, though arguably that would not have been out of place in a scent associated with field hospitals.) Sharp reminded Portia of SL Laine de Fer, and some loft? insulation material the name of which I didn't catch, but which sounded humorous.

Audience suggestions: Dettol(!), Estee Lauder White Linen, and something else I have failed to write down.

Source: Roullier White


Famous for: Being the Chinese Emperor's concubine, Dowager Empress and Regent of China, and having unfeasibly long nails, which knock the entire cast of TOWIE's talons into a cocked hat. Tz'u Hsi also oversaw the establishment of schools, the reorganisation of the army - and the suppression of opium cultivation.

YSL Opium (vintage) - haha!

Audience suggestions/comments: Rachael mentioned that she once got off her head sniffing Opium in the 1970s during a bout of flu. 'While we were all snorting poppers!' joked Portia. Given the age Portia would have been in the '70s it is sincerely to be hoped not. ;)

KATHARINE HEPBURN (note spelling - I speak as a 'not quite fellow' Kathryn)

Famous for: A stellar Hollywood career spanning 60 years, and legendary cheekbones. Portia said: 'I ate my way out of that look, but I like to think I have some of her poise'. Based on how well Portia was managing in those killer heels, despite a dodgy ankle, I would say a resounding yes to that.

JHAG Gentlewoman

Portia joked: 'A lot of perfumistas need to be challenged every time they breathe in, but I just need to smell good!' I liked this soapy yet crisp orange-y cologne myself and would say 'Amen' to that sentiment!

Audience suggestions: FM Le Parfum de Therese (ie something a bit more spiky and angular, I infer - more African Queen, if you will), Jicky, Dior Eau Sauvage ('Ooh yes,' exclaimed Portia, 'she would have bathed in the s***!'), Miss Dior and Chanel No 5.


And finally, I would like to include this one, because of my personal connection to the scent Portia chose for her...


Famous for: Her magnetic violet eyes, continually marrying and unmarrying Richard Burton, and being in a ton of iconic films, including Cleopatra (see above!). Her face is considerably more beautiful than a foot, it must be said.

Rochas Byzance

NB This was the perfume I associate with my mother because of her not wearing it, and which gave rise to this elegaic post about her, which some readers may remember, and which is the piece of writing anywhere on Bonkers which means the most to me. I describe Byzance in my review as 'A retro soapfest clouded in mystery'.

Audience suggestions: Tara came up with FM Lipstick Rose, which spookily enough was the exact same scent that popped into my mind, on account of its cosmetic boudoir vibe and violet connection!

Portia having a swishy skirt moment.

So yes, these are only half the people featured. I was assigned Oprah Winfrey, for example, and 'channelled' Michael Kors as my suggestion, which is weird as I am not sure I have even smelt it - that's why I say 'channelled', because it came to me just like that! Portia, meanwhile, picked YSL M7 for her. And higher up the post I may of course be seen posing with Angela Merkel, who was teamed with a Byredo scent. Oh, and I would just like to mention that I had heard of the oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle, but only because there was a programme on her on Radio 4 the other week.

Portia, Val, Tara and Sabine (of Iridescents)

Then after the talk there was the usual high octane milling around and having lightning conversations with fellow fumeheads - much like speed dating, indeed, but without the dating part.

Rachael and me

This was a good opportunity to hand over a pair of wrist warmers I had knitted as a commission for Val, and there was also the usual exchanging of little goody bags. Oh, and of course I had to take away one of Val's brownies. Eating it on the train home was (not for the first time, indeed) a way of proving to myself that that night of unalloyed fabulousness, razzle-dazzle, and all round not-quite-family entertainment really happened. Yep, Portia, you are still a caution and a hoot and a half, and long may you continue to be so!

Brownie plus coupons reunited!


Lucy said...

Wish I had been there! Too fun and all the best of the perfume mad aspects in one place, especially Portia. I do love that special headpiece, especially with the beard.

Tara said...

Great write-up, V! Loved "high octane milling around".
You looked fantastic in that jacket and I'm sure any tiny tummy was only a trick of the light.
I loved how we increased the size of our group through the day like "iron filings" as you said. What a happy band we were.
Portia likes short posts so I'm desperately trying to cull my word count. Therefore it won't be nearly as meticulous as usual!

Ingeborg said...

Loved this write-up,I wish we had something just half as fun happening locally. I find it very hard to pair famous people with one particular perfume, but with a group of people I am sure it was a fun twist.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lucy,

It would have been lovely if you could have been there - you would have been thoroughly entertained! The headpiece/beard combo is priceless, I agree. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

You are too kind about my 'tiny tummy'. I have lost a pound since I came home, so I hope to shake the rest of it off by and by. The iron filings analogy seemed quite apt for the way we kept hoovering up members of Val's posse.

Good luck whittling the APJ post and I look forward to reading (even in slightly abbreviated form!) all sorts of things I forgot / missed.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ingeborg,

Shame there isn't a quorum of fumeheads near you - these gatherings are a lot of fun.

I think the 'focus group' effect of having a bunch of us pitting our wits at the pairings of perfume with person made the task a lot easier.

Tara said...

I wish you'd put on some weight. You must be below the recommended BMI for your height, surely?

Thinkingmagpie said...

Ah, so Angela Merkel was a part of the scent the ladies session? When I saw the photo of you and Portia plus screenful of AM, I was wondering what was going on there... I wish I could have been there...

Vanessa said...

It's okay, Tara, really! I just did the calculation using an NHS online tool and I am half a stone into the 'healthy zone', in BMI terms.

Vanessa said...

Hi Yukiko,

Yes, she was, and the reason I got photographed with her as the backdrop is because she was the last woman to be featured, so stayed up there after the talk was over. ;0

Would be great to meet you some day!

Ines said...

WOnderful! I love reading about this get-togethers! It must be huge fun, I can only imagine, I know how much fun I have just having a perfume coffee with me fellow perfumistas here. Meeting more in person and spending hours chatting and sniffing sounds like heaven. :D
Now, what exactly is bibimbap?!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the „flavour of content“, it’s so nice that you all had a wonderful time together.
A Marmite accord??? It took me several years to finally appreciate Marmite, so I should try Celtic Fire.

The forgetting things part sounds very familiar to me, I am a bit scatterbrained and even if I didn’t forget stuff I feel like I have. But oddly enough I there is always unimportant trinket like a chocolate bar or fragrance sample(s) in my bag.
Greetings from Anka

Anonymous said...

Hi Tara,
please write a long post, I am so curious!

Carol said...

I too love to read about get-togethers - thanks V for taking us along for the ride! xo

Pats said...

It was lovely to hear a little more about the evening Vanessa. Thanks for the post and the photos. You are just a little slip of a thing. :-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

I think you have a nice little gang over there from what I have read on your blog - this event was notable for having so many nationalities gathered in one place. Sadly I didn't have that much time to chat to anyone - Val joked that we would talk on Messenger, even though we were standing looking at each other! Obviously the fumeheads who are London based like Tara got to see and do a lot more with Portia and Val etc - so they will have spent hours chatting and sniffing for sure!

A bibimbap is a sizzling bowl of rice with mixed vegetables and maybe some protein on top and a bit of chilli sauce. A recommendation from Sabine. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Anka,

I love Marmite but its presence in Celtic Fire is at homoeopathic dilution rates to my nose. This scent is more about the birch tar-y bonfire vibe, which is not really my thing.

Pleased to hear you are a bit scatterbrained too! Like you I invariably have 'emergency' items with me along similar lines - no money, but an empty perfume vial in case I want to make a sample suddenly. And the obligatory paper clip - what's that about? Oh, maybe for rebooting a satnav when it goes blank, that'll be it...

Really sorry you couldn't make it in the end and I hope you are feeling better by the day!

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Glad you enjoyed it - one day we will meet again! x

Vanessa said...

Hi Pats,

You are welcome, and thanks for saying I am on the slight side. I think that is why my Malteser tummy stood out. Am working on getting it back down, albeit the blue cheese and nutfest this lunchtime may have undone some of those good intentions. ;)

Carol said...

I hope so!
Oh another Fairy Bread post popped into my feed - weirdly coincidental!!

Anonymous said...

It was such am amazing time. I cannot believe the friendships that we have built up through this groovy perfume world. I now have Kirk, from my inner circle of friends, demanding Amouage information. And fair play to my husband, he is so supportive of my mania. Of course he himself is nuts so it does help. I did try the Fairy Bread and the Vegemite sandwich triangles. I preferred the cheesy twisty things. I cannot wait to see you again and publicly declare my love for you. You are a star. Lucky this is anonymous. ;)

Vanessa said...

Well, well, ice cream - didn't see that coming!

Vanessa said...

Hi Anonymous,

That's great that Kirk is now 'of the faith', and your husband is indeed a complete trouper to humour us all to this extent. And he was great about the gig too, and all the ferrying around and general logistical craziness.

I missed the Vegemite sandwiches, though they should have been easy to spot, you'd say.

I will publicly declare my love back when a suitable opportunity presents you are. ;) And your husband has nothing to fear - there is room for three of us in this relationship, to sort of paraphrase Diana.

crikey said...

oh, that sounds like it was *so* much fun. Thank you for writing about it, and sharing the pictures. I rather wish I'd been able to head south for it--I'd love to meet some of you all.

Yuki said...

Thanks so much for writing this up and sharing! It sounded SO FUN! I loved the hipster beard wth the gold headdress, and I also loved the idea of having the perfumes paired to different famous women. I've never tried Fairy bread, was it any good?

Vanessa said...

Hi crikey,

And we'd love to meet you - after all, the fact that you have been to at least one Monochrome Set gig qualifies you as a member of the 'The Monochrome Set Perfumistas', as Rachael is now calling us. By the same token, Katie Puckrik is one too, having seen the band in Washington DC in 1980 just months after my first time seeing them in London. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Yuki,

Isn't the hipster beard splendid? I must confess that I didn't actually eat any of the Fairy bread and barely managed a cashew or two, on account of being still full from dinner. ;)

crikey said...

That's a fine niche to find myself in!

Undina said...

I'll skip my usual "I wish..." - you know, I do :)

Choosing between "smartness and warmth" I would always go for warmth: I'm miserable when I'm cold!

I've never been good matching anything/anyone to anything so not only I do not have any ideas as to what to assign to what historical figure, I can't even appreciate how well others did it. But it was an interesting reading.

I also feel that I have to comment on the Fairy Bread: it doesn't look like food and I think people shouldn't eat it (unless they're starving to death).

Anonymous said...

Hi Tara,
I was the person who suggested to Portia that you do a post of the event on APJ as you did such great ones on Olfactoria. At that time you didn't have your own blog (it's great by the way). I'd suggest a short post on APJ as Portia requests and then, if you are willing, one of your wonderful, more-detailed posts on your own blog.

-- Lindaloo

Anonymous said...

Hi Vanessa,
Great post as usual. I've been reading regularly (and enjoying greatly), but I've fallen off in commenting. Have not had very much energy lately.

I did want to say that Truffle is gorgeous and that all of her behaviours sounded perfectly normal to me. I don't believe cats ever get stuck, except at the tops of trees, as they have a good sense of how they will fit in and get out. Since they don't have shoulders they can get in and out of amazingly small places. Only hard part is finding them, although shaking treat bags is useful.

More Truffle pictures would never be amiss. (They grow so quickly that every stage must be captured.) ;-)

-- Lindaloo

Vanessa said...


Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I partly went for warmth in the end - but only on the journey down and back. I had a black pullover with me that I wore over my top, but took off just before I met up with everyone. So I was warm some of the time, and smart the rest!

I am not sure that the Fairy Bread looks particularly nutritious, certainly. Maybe you have to be six years old to fully appreciate this national delicacy. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

Lovely to hear from you again and learn that you are still out there - I never expect very many comments, so don't worry. Especially with it being more of a palaver on Blogger.

It's good to hear that Truffle's behaviours sound normal to you - I actually told her as much today, haha. I also felt bold enough to remove all the blankets and pillows from the hall floor, which I had recently put down following her scary scaling of the banisters. I figured if she hadn't fallen to her death in the past fortnight while the banister climbing was all new to her, it probably wasn't going to happen.

She is still wriggling behind things in the narrowest of gaps - down behind the bedhead and even a bookcase I would never have thought possible. I am getting more relaxed about treading on her and running into her though - she does seem to be made of rubber!

Your request for more Truffle pics is noted. I don't believe you are on Facebook, where my longsuffering friends are subjected to a continuous onslaught of pics!

Vanessa said...

Paging Tara!

Anonymous said...

I fear I must retract my "cats don't get stuck" claim. This picture on Yahoo would argue otherwise:

Clearly, if you have such pots, you too may end up with what they have called a "Cleocatra".

-- Lindaloo

crikey said...

see also my ridiculously adventuresome and accident-prone cat, zot: who once many many years ago got herself stuck inside a cavity wall, two floors down from my flat. No, the neighbours were not entirely happy about the small demolition job that had to be done (and only agreed when I suggested the smell of ex-cat would be way worse. Meanies.)

Vanessa said...

Oh my Lord, Lindaloo, that cat is well and truly stuck, albeit in a rather stylish way!

Vanessa said...

Oh crikey, crikey, poor zot had a lucky - if expensive! - escape. The alternative would have been unpleasant all round though, no question.